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Introduction—The Federal Act of 1815–The Diet–The Plenum
Court of Austragal Instanz-Representative Assemblies-Article
On the establishment of the Rhine Confederation under the protection of Napoleon I. in 1806, the Emperor Francis II. resigned the Imperial crown, tion. and declared the German Empire to exist no longer. The Confederation of the Rhine, which increased in numbers till it embraced the whole of Germany, with the exception of Austria, Prussia, Swedish Pomerania, and Holstein, gradually melted away when the tide began to turn against the French
• Germany was now utterly disintegrated. The Holy Roman Empire had ceased to exist; the Confederation of the Rhine had followed it; and from the Black Forest to the Russian frontier there was nothing but angry ambitions, vengeances, and fears. If there ever was to be peace again in all
these wide regions, it was clearly necessary to create something new.'1
The reorganisation of Germany formed then one of the principal subjects of negotiation at the Congress of Vienna, and the result of the labours of the statesmen and diplomatists engaged on this work was the Federal Act, bearing date June 8, 1815, and which was placed under the guarantee of eight great European Powers.
Without examining the negotiations which led to the formulation of the Federal Act (Bundes-Akte), on which was based the German Confederation, we will turn to the Act itself, and sketch some of its principal features.
The object of the Confederation was stated to be the maintenance of the external and internal security of Germany, and the independence and inviolability of the several German States. The affairs of the Confederation were entrusted to an assembly, of which Austria was president, and which is best known under the name of the Diet. The Diet consisted of seventeen members, the larger States having each one vote, and the smaller ones voting in groups. The votes were divided in the following ratio : Austria 1; Prussia 1; Bavaria 1; Kingdom of Saxony 1; Hanover 1; Wurtemburg 1; Grand Duchy of Baden 1; Electorate of Hesse 1; GrandDucal Hesse 1; Denmark, for the Duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg, 1; the Netherlands, for Limburg and Luxemburg, 1; the Duchies of Saxe-Mein
1 Sketches in European Politics, by Grant Duff, p. 257.
ingen, Saxe-Coburg Gotha, and Saxe Altenburg 1 ; Brunswick and Nassau 1; Mecklenburg Schwerin
1815. and Mecklenburg Strelitz 1; Oldenburg, Anhalt, and the two Schwarzburgs (Rudolstadt and Sonderhausen) 1 ; Lichtenstein, Reuss, Schaumburg-Lippe, Lippe Detmold, Waldeck, and Hesse Homburg 1; the free cities Lubeck, Frankfort, Bremen, and Hamburg 1.
When any change was proposed in the funda- The mental laws of the Confederation, or when any determination had to be arrived at on important questions affecting the general national interests, the Diet was formed into a Plenum consisting of sixtynine members, in which the larger Powers had several votes, according to their size, and the smaller States one vote each. The majority of voices in the smaller assembly decided what questions should be submitted to the Plenum. In the smaller assembly an absolute majority was sufficient to decide a question, while in the Plenum a two-thirds majority was always necessary. The seat of the Diet was to be at Frankfort-on-the-Main.
The right to form alliances with foreign powers and with each other was reserved to members of the Confederation, with the proviso that such alliances were not detrimental to the general interests. Pro- Court of
Austrågal vision was made for a court which could settle dif- Instanz. ferences between members of the Confederation, but the proposal to create a real court of arbitration failed, owing to the opposition of Wurtemburg,
CHAP, Bavaria, and Hesse Darmstadt. This court was
termed Austrägal Instanz. 1815.
When two confederate States had disputes between each other, they chose the highest court of Justice of some third State, which was then called Austrägal Gericht, to which was entrusted the settlement of the dispute. The execution of its
decrees was in the hands of the Diet. Represen Each State was to establish representative proassemblies. vincial diets. The attempts made by Austria,
Prussia, and Hanover, that the constitution and functions of these representative assemblies should be submitted to the approval of the Diet, were defeated by Bavaria, Wurtemburg, and others, who considered it a question which each State should settle for itself, and they would only permit of an article being inserted in the Federal Act stating that these assemblies were to be established throughout Germany. This article (Article 13) gave considerable trouble to the several States. In most States these assemblies were not instituted ; at any rate, not on the intended basis; some old representative bodies were revived, and in certain instances some feeble uncertain steps were made towards the formation of a representative system, but nothing more. In Prussia a deputation was sent by the Government into the provinces to sound the feelings and opinions of the people in this matter.
Other articles in the Federal Act related to the establishment of tribunals of justice, to the position
and privileges of the several princely houses, of the members of the cathedral chapters, and of the
1815. German orders, and to the mutual intercourse between the inhabitants of the different States. The rights of the mediatized princes, and of the former nobles of the empire (Reichs-adel) were settled by Article 14 in a manner not quite satisfactory to them, but which placed them in a better position than they held in the time of the Rhine Confederation. The laws which should govern the commerce, the postal arrangements, the means of communication, the military system, &c. of the States were left to future deliberation, while the civil rights of Germans were almost uncared for.
Perhaps the most important article of the Federal Article XI. Act is Article XI. ; and as it was frequently appealed to in 1864 and in 1866, it may be as well to give its full text.
• Every member of the Confederation promises to protect all Germany as well as each individual confederate State against every attack, and to guarantee mutually to each other all their possessions comprised in the Confederation. When war has once been declared by the Confederation, no member can enter on individual negotiations, or conclude a truce or peace individually. The members of the Confederation retain the right of forming any alliance, but bind themselves not to make any engagement directed against the safety of the Confederation, or any of its members. The members of